Advice From 80s Music
By Matt Wixon
Reggae star Sean Paul is extremely popular right now, and I'm guessing the
same goes for his Web site. After all, Sean-paul.net is where fans can
find out about his belief that "life is a gift and you must treasure it,"
as well as his thoughts on his album: "You done know we got to take care
of the ladies, and I'm still giving you those party vibes."
But more importantly, the Web site provides Sean Paul's lyrics. That
allows fans to decipher his word blitzes on songs such as "Temperature," a
Well woman the way the time cold I wanna be keepin' you warm
I got the right temperature to shelter you from the storm
Oh lord, gal I got the right tactics to turn you on, and girl I...
Wanna be the Papa...You can be the Mom....oh oh!
I think we all understand what's hip-hop-happenin' in that chorus. But
back in the '80s, it was much easier to get the message from songs. For
example, check out the opening lines of Whitney Houston's "Greatest Love
of All," which on this day 20 years ago was top of the pops:
I believe that children are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
OK, I've got to be honest. I would rather hear a 60-minute loop of
"Temperature" than even a snippet of "Greatest Love of All." But Houston's
song about dignity and self-respect, which she sang coherently because she
had not yet met Bobby Brown, provided a powerful message about life. It
was like many other '80s songs, which offered advice for succeeding in
life, dealing with problems, and of course, partying like it's 1999.
Here are some examples of important lessons learned from '80s music, but
please note that I was dreaming when I wrote this, so forgive me if it
Say a problem came along. Devo told us that we must whip it. Whip it
good. Poison then cautioned us that every rose has its thorn, and The
Buggles told us to watch out for video, because it killed the radio star.
In a scarier lesson, Hall and Oates told us to avoid the maneater, a
so-called "lean and hungry type" that would only come out at night.
Songs of the '80s also told us about the world. Madonna told us that we
are living in a material world, Tears for Fears told us that everybody
wants to rule the world, and R.E.M. said it was the end of the world as we
know it. Dozens of people, including an old-fashioned human-looking
version of Michael Jackson, told us that we are the world.
A lot of times an '80s singer told us to do something, like to wake him up
before we go-go, because George Michael — and the other guy in Wham! who
did nothing — didn't want to be left hanging on like a yo-yo. We were also
told to do "that conga," because Gloria Estefan knew we couldn't control
ourselves "any longa."
There were also a lot of cautionary "don't" tales, as in Rick
Springfield's "Don't Talk to Strangers" and Simple Minds' "Don't You
(Forget About Me)." Bobby Brown and Cheap Trick each told us "don't be
cruel," The Police told us "don't stand so close to me," and in an
unfortunately unforgettable song, Bobby McFerrin told us "don't worry, be
sappy." Wait, I mean happy.
And to be happy, '80s music told us to stand up for ourselves. We needed
to have the "eye of the tiger," Survivor said, and we needed to fight
authority, even if John Mellencamp admitted authority always wins. If
those stodgy elders wouldn't budge, Twisted Sister advised us to yell,
"we're not gonna take it," although from watching their video, the band
might have been referring to high prices on hairspray, lipstick and
Kenny Loggins told us to "cut footloose," a great example of '80s music
telling us to break down societal norms, and if an abandoned factory is
nearby, to do gymnastic dance moves on a high bar. It was a decade of
dancing — in the street (David Bowie and Mick Jagger), in the dark (Bruce
Springteen), on the ceiling (Lionel Richie) and with myself (Billy Idol).
It was a decade of parties, maybe because the Beastie Boys told us to
fight for our right to party. One girl even wanted to party all the time,
Eddie Murphy said, but I'm guessing not at a party at which he would be
singing. You'd have to be a king of pain to endure that.
But '80s music was mostly about love, and most of us needed a little help
with that, even if we looked like Don Johnson in a white suit or Olivia
Newton John in leg warmers. Fortunately, Phil Collins reminded us that
"you can't hurry love." Aerosmith told us about love in an elevator, Def
Leppard told us that love bites, Soft Cell sang about tainted love, Tina
Turner asked "what's love got to do with it?" and Samantha Fox passed
along that "naughty girls need love too." Jody Watley was looking for a
new love, and I hope she knew what Pat Benatar knew — that love is a
That all led into the '90s, and although Technotronic did effectively pump
up the jam in 1990, things were never really the same once Vanilla Ice hit
it big with "Ice, Ice Baby."
Sure, if there was a problem, "yo!" he solved it. But frankly, Ice, I'd
rather whip it than "check out the hook while my deejay revolves it."
And there's nothing wrong with that. I think Bobby B. would agree that
it's my prerogative.
Matt Wixon is humor columnist for The Dallas Morning News. His columns can
be found at
www.dallasnews.com/humorme and his blog (with more videos) is at